London Larder was devised in 2012 to bring you the ultimate eating and drinking guide to London. It was borne out of a need for up-to-date, quantitative and whole-heartedly recommended places to eat and drink.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Central & Co

Covent Garden

Central & Co, located at the north end of Carnaby Street, has a very unassuming presence. So unassuming in fact, most people would not notice it unless they were looking for it. This seems quite bizarre considering, particularly during warmer months, there are frequently crowds huddled outside drinking, eating and chattering, but being located between the Palladium theatre and the bustle of Soho, this is not an unusual, so eventually the outside of venues such as this particular brasserie and bar all appear the same. For us, this is a shame, because since our visit one day mid-week, we felt that we had being missing out on something a bit special.

The entrance to Central & Co opens into a long bar area with wooden chairs and granite topped tables at the front, a long leather sofa extending down the left side and high tables and chairs towards the back, culminating with a tall, sleek and very well stocked cocktail bar against the back wall. On a Wednesday night the bar area was buzzing, with people swinging by for after-work drinks with colleagues and new couples on dates. The music is fast-beat and loud, and it makes for an energetic vibe and a great feel-good bar to be in. The cocktails? Well, these were simply superb – in fact some of the best we have tasted (but they do take some time to make, we waited a fair time for ours). Here you can choose from a compact yet fun menu of traditional thirst-quenchers all with a special ‘Central & Co’ twist. We drank a refreshingly piquant Bloody Maria; El Jimador Tequila, fresh lime, celery salt and C&C Bloody Mary mix served with baby pickles, and a Centrapolitan (like a Cosmo - but better…  we are told); citrus vodka, cranberry juice and Briottet Poppy liqueur.
If you are drinking and fancy hanging around for a nibble, Central & Co offer a fun array of small plates which include the likes of warm scotch duck egg with house marinated pickles and chicken liver parfait with Yorkshire pudding and red onion jam. We opted for the delightfully meaty mini salmon fishcakes with a deliciously tart and chunky lemon and tartar sauce, some honey and wholegrain mustard glazed baby sausages (pretty standard but a sizeable portion) and the absolute highlight (and moreishly impossible to stop eating) cucumber crisps, served alongside some dill and sour cream sauce. We would go back again just for these!

The really odd part however, is that if you fancy more than a nibble, you stay right where you are. “But surely this is the bar area?” I exclaimed to my friend; No, no. This was the restaurant too. So we remained seated and ordered corn fed chicken with grilled hispi cabbage, roast squash, mixed seeds and English mustard dressing and a red onion and Oxford Blue puff pastry tart. Both dishes were superbly cooked, full of flavour, juicy and delicately dressed and presented. The tart did remind us a little of the Jus-Rol pastry in the supermarket, but it was still very appetising and we ate both plates until our dishes were wiped completely clean. This chicken, however, takes well over 30 minutes to prepare and cook, which was not communicated to us at the time of ordering, so we had a long wait and a bit of frustration between nibbles and mains. The uncomfortable feeling that we were sat eating in the middle of a busy bar still remained as we ate surrounded by patrons getting giddy on cocktails and beer and the volume of the music was up so loud we could not hear what the other person was saying.

Strangely, there is a basement floor in Central & Co (the 'Co' bit of 'Central') which is much more laid back and which has an alternative cocktail bar downstairs. Why we were not offered a seat down here to eat we did not know, and why the lower cocktail bar was not promoted more we could not understand as unlike most places you see today, each spirit used is decanted into different sized bottles and flasks with the labels removed and drinks and cocktails are mixed on taste rather than brand. This we loved and wondered why we had not seen this in bars before.

So all in all the drinks were excellent, the food was great, the staff was brilliant (although they were very slow) but the layout of the place and the atmosphere was very muddled and confusing, making for a tense eating experience. Should you choose to come to Central & Co for cocktails however, I would definitely recommend it. Just make sure you don’t mind the confused faces are the few diners who are sitting there.

22 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7HU

Average price for a main course: £12
Average price for a cocktail: £9
Food/drink: 4/5
Service: 3/5
Value: 4/5


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